#BreakTheBias – International Women’s Day 2022

Guest blog by Zoe Pietrzak, Director of Operational Finance and Deputy Regional Director of Finance, NHS England and NHS Improvement – East of England & Chair of the Women in Leadership for NHS Finance network.

It’s 2022 – does conscious bias still exist?

I have worked in NHS Finance for 19 years, I am a senior leader and I am a woman. Although the significant majority of our NHS finance community are women the proportion at Director of Finance or Chief Finance Officer level doesn’t reflect this and it also doesn’t reflect the diversity we see in the population we serve as an NHS. Representation matters because hearing a diverse range of voices in decision making supports more informed decisions to be made ensuring that they are the best for us and our patients.

Having realised a couple of years ago that women are so underrepresented in senior financial leadership roles in the NHS I wanted to understand the reason why and then, how to change it. In response, and through collaboration with a colleague, the Women in Leadership for Finance network was established. Our vision as a network is to work in a finance community which is led by a representative group of people who bring diversity, compassion, and inclusivity to leadership. To see more women in senior leadership roles, to encourage more women to aspire to become leaders and to remove internal and external barriers preventing this.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘Break the Bias’, to me this means both the conscious (yes it does still exist) and the unconscious bias that create barriers to career progression for women along with the internal bias we sometimes show towards ourselves – that thing in our heads that stops us from aspiring, from taking the next step, from believing in ourselves.

The first step towards breaking the bias is to recognise that it does exist and to raise awareness of it. We can then start to challenge the assumptions that are driving that bias and break the stereotypes that also exist. I have worked in the NHS for 19 years, I am a senior leader and I am a woman so to a certain extent I’ve overcome some of the barriers that bias has put in my way and I have done this by being myself, by being clear about my goals and by believing in my ability, I have also been very fortunate in the support and championship that I have received from key individuals I’ve worked with.

I think we break the bias by talking about the issues, by having difficult conversations and by continuing to call out bias consistently and professionally when we see it. I think we break the bias by supporting and championing each other and by finding allies and those who will amplify our voice. I think we break the bias by believing in ourselves, by aspiring to the careers that we want and by being clear to others and ourselves about the value that we add in our roles, to our organisations and to our patients.

Today on International Women’s day 2022 I will be focusing on my own resilience and how I can support that of others and I invite you, whatever your gender or role, to spend some time today deciding how you can help break the bias and how together we can create greater diversity in senior finance roles in the NHS.